Muslim leaders in the Middle East today demanded further apologies from Pope Benedict XVI for controversial remarks about Islam, as attacks on Christian churches continued in the West Bank.
Mahmoud Ashour, the former deputy of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Arab world’s most powerful institution, said the Pope’s apology was not enough.
“He should apologise because he insulted the beliefs of Islam,” Ashour told Al-Arabiya TV. “He must apologise in a frank way and say he made a mistake.”
The leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood took a softer stance, saying the Islamic political group’s relations with Christians should remain “good, civilised and co-operative”.
“While anger over the Pope’s remarks was necessary, it shouldn’t last for long because while he is the head of the Catholic church in the world, many Europeans are not following it,” Mohammed Mahdi Akef said. “So what he said won’t influence them.”
During a speech last week in Germany, the Pope, quoting from a Medieval text, cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterised some of the teachings of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman”.
Days later as word of the Pope’s speech spread, Muslims around the world responded with anger and violence despite the Vatican’s insistence that the Pope did not mean to offend anyone.
Benedict today explained further that the text he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion.
“These (words) were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought,” Benedict told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome.
Earlier today in the West Bank, two churches were set alight as anger over the Pope’s comments grew throughout the Palestinian areas.
In the town of Tulkarem, a 170-year-old stone church was torched before dawn and its interior was destroyed, local Christian officials said. In the village of Tubas, a small church was attacked with firebombs and partially burned, Christians said. Neither church is Catholic, the officials said.
Palestinian Muslims hurled firebombs and opened fire at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday to protest against the Pope’s comments, sparking concerns of a rift between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.